It's "Stroller", Jeremy

It’s not often that an opinion piece in the Reflect section of ST’s Sunday Life! will get any noticeable attention (although once in a while you can still count on Sumiko Tan to let some air out of her head). But this week, one did. Titled “Some parents’ overuse of prams is a truly distressing social ill“, Jeremy Lee has inadvertently set forth “a ruckus… on how insensitive a childless person like me is to parents who are doing their Singaporean duty of going forth and multiplying“.

As the quote implies, dude knew what was coming for sure. But The Blogfather would like to say some things in his defence.

First, it’s strollers, not prams.

Second, he’s a horrible writer.

Third, I agree with him.

You might say at this point that these points of defence seem absolutely ridiculous, but based on experience, you should know the Blogfather better than that already, don’t you?

1. Too many assumptions

Jeremy Lee’s first mistake was refer to our child movers prams and subsequently going on a pedantic spew on the entomology of the term “perambulate” without realising there is a difference.

This is a pram.
This is a pram.

Prams are those big, bulky bassinets on wheels for newborn babies, not very popular in Singapore because they are really expensive and are really only usable in the first 3-5 months of a baby’s life.

Strollers are the foldable canvas chairs on wheels with seats belts and adjustable seating/lying

This is a stroller.
This is a stroller.

positions that can be folded flat or even umbrella-style, and have a much longer usage period (up to 4 years by most manufacturers’ recommendations). With this understanding of the terms, you’d naturally see strollers a lot more than you’d see a pram.

Semantics, you say? It’s actually a tell-tale sign that this writer doesn’t have all his wits about him, because there’s more.

He also makes reference to remembering himself “running everywhere at the age of three or four“, and then goes on to share his kindergarten principal friend’s anecdote, applicable to a demographic that’s a year or two above the kids he’s trying to refer to. That one or two years makes a huge difference in a child’s physical development, and while kids most definitely are able to run everywhere, kids of ages 3 to 4 neither have the energy levels to keep doing it for the duration of, say, a shopping mall outing, nor the self-control or awareness of his or her surroundings to not stray too far or get lost (Chermaine of Becoming Mam sums up these reasons and more in her response to Jeremy), while kids aged 5 and up have significantly longer-lasting batteries and better listening skills (arguable, I know). This is something that only a person that has spent copious amounts of time with a child or 20 will know (notice I didn’t say parents), but at the same time does take more than a stroller or 20 to resolve (see point 3 below).

2. Jeremy Lee sucks as a writer

Someone said to me that Jeremy’s article was “a flaunting of his English prowess to put down people, and insensitive.

If your intention is to drive a point or three across to a discerning audience, drive the point without clouding your opinion with your arrogance. You’re a salaried SPH journalist, not a blogger.

Worse, Jeremy writes under the assumption (again) that readers will ingest his every word, when journalism students are taught that people don’t read more than 60% of anything that they write in any given article; a fact that is especially prevalent on web publications. So “slip(ping) in the small observation that most of these prams that (he has) seen… do not actually have babies in them“, and interjecting phrases such as “I feel”, I always think” and “in my humble opinion” (ugh) doesn’t water down what looks to be a misguided opinion piece published on an established national media platform (to which I must say, Jeremy’s editors have as much to blame for allowing this travesty to see the light of day).

There’s a reason why columnists have to serve years on ground beats as junior writers before they are given the right to publish opinions on a newspaper.

3. Why the Blogfather still agrees

However, I do empathise with Jeremy. There’s a particular subset of parents who do mollycoddle their offspring to a point where self-respecting parents really wonder how the generation we’re bringing up is going to turn out (and whether it is going to involve strawberries, too).

They wilfully use their strollers to clear paths for themselves without care nor courtesy for other pedestrians, regardless if its occupant is a baby, a kindergartener or 8 Fairprice plastic bags of groceries.

They value their child’s well-being and right to exist over any other individual in their immediate midst – even themselves, and have honed their skill of shooting dirty looks at anyone who disapproves to the calibre of an MI5 sniper.

They’re also not that common, because us family people are by and large nice, considerate folks that will feel embarrassment and say sorry up to 3 times for accidentally touching our stroller wheel on a stranger’s shoe. But because of the nature of their parenting beliefs, they make themselves very visible to anyone and everyone that encounters them. In some circles I hang out in, they might even be referred to as “the vocal minority”.

Photo for illustration purposes only; skateboards are not intended to be put in strollers, even if they are newly purchased. Other terms and conditions apply.
Photo for illustration purposes only; skateboards are not intended to be put in strollers, even if they are newly purchased. Other terms and conditions apply.

Stroller usage is especially prevalent here in Singapore (as opposed to say, Bangkok) given the government’s very successful barrier-free program that now not only gives the disabled easier access to anywhere and everywhere, but also parents with strollers to wheel freely around with the assistance of ramps and lifts.

From a macro viewpoint, given the government’s strong support for families in both national policy and infrastructure, Singaporean parents do feel an elevated sense of entitlement – in some parents (and a rather obnoxious selection at that), an exaggerated sense of entitlement.

In the context of Jeremy’s article, that’s where the “pram rage” phenomenon comes from (because “stroller rage” doesn’t roll off the tongue as nicely), and that, in my humble opinion, is the true source of Jeremy’s ire. So for most of us parents who aren’t obnoxious pram-rage drivers, don’t worry. Jeremy isn’t talking about you.

But for the quality of his article, evidently Jeremy doesn’t entirely know what he’s talking about; he’s made too many blind, honest mistakes in his article to be taken seriously.

Three Books, The Book and Barbra Streisand

I was told yesterday morning about a press conference that the NLB was holding to address the book removal issue that became a thing the day before.

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Up until Today Online started covering the conference, I was trying to figure out why they wanted to hold a press conference when a) they already released a vague statement reiterating their stance on the issue, and b) the lady who first gaffed on NLB’s part (and whose name most of the first responders just couldn’t get right initially), Assistant Chief Executive and Chief Librarian Ms Tay Ai Cheng was still on leave (and won’t be back until next week).

As it turned out, nothing much was said in the new statement that wasn’t already said in the last statement (reproduced below), except for a few clarifications on how many requests they receive on average (about 20 book titles are challenged every year) and how many actually get cut (about a third; this year, it was only And Tango Makes Three, The White Swan Express and Who’s in My Family, all 3 challenged by the same complainant(s) who started this whole mess).

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What I see just about every single report immediately latch on, though, was that (quoting Today Online) “(t)he three titles will be pulped in accordance to library policy…

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Oh for the love of penguins.

You do not tell a group of people who write for a living that you, the largest book repository in the country, destroy books. I am so lost for words, probably because NLB pulped them.

Other media outlets decided to use other synonyms (I saw the words trashed and destroyed on separate occasions), but none tried to play down the fact; the sentiment was felt all round – you might as well have said you burn books.

But It Has Never Been About the Books

I cannot understand how a statutory board (or 3 seeing as NLB says it follows MSF and MDA family policy) allowed this moved so quickly from pissing off the LGBT crowd, to pissing off the non-conventional family unit crowd, to pissing off the literary and journalistic crowd. I honestly thought the press conference was engineered to spite those who disagreed with the action, until I found out from a reporter who was there that it was a question thrown from the floor – a question the poor lady who had to take over her colleague who was on leave simply wasn’t prepared to answer.

I really would advise the NLB to please stop doing or saying anything else at this point because at the rate you’re going, you’ll only have the We Are Against Pink Dot in Singapore group left on your side, and honestly, that’s actually not a lot of people, and from what I hear from a choice number of my other pro-family theistic friends, also not quite representative of who they say they represent.

The speed at which this incident has gained traction has also left some confused; all this over 2 (now 3) books? I would have gone into a good few paragraphs about how this had never been about the books, and how even the so-called “pro-family” activists should be very very worried about what they started, but Remy Choo beat me to it (and he even pulls a Luke 6:31 with a legal case involving the Bible), so allow me to just quote:

“Is the National Library Board’s (NLB) removal of two titles for being insufficiently “pro-family” the first step down a slippery slope to controlling publicly available information for narrow and sectarian ends?

I hope not.

The prospect is frightening, and it really should concern all right thinking Singaporeans, gay or straight, religious or atheistic, pro or anti-government.”

The Streisand Effect

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The Streisand Effect (or the unintentional drawing of the exact kind of attention one doesn’t want) has been mentioned in discussions about the PM vs Roy Ngerng, and now here. All this talk about the books has gotten me, a cheapskate blogger who can get meals, toys and entry to events for the price of about 800 words each, to plonk down a grand total of $50.53 on Amazon to purchase 3 kids’ books that were probably all just gonna read once and leave to collect dust in a shelf for until the authorities decide to check our homes for pulpable material. More importantly, it’s getting us to talk to our children about sexuality and complex family units more readily than had we never gotten wind of what happened.

But there’s a dark side to the Streisand Effect as well, which the Mother of Xander raised in our after-dinner conversation last night: instead of getting us to not teach our children about homosexuality, we’ve now grown extremely unwilling to discuss certain religions with our children. We cannot explain the hate emanating from some of the people that represent it, and no children’s book of the subject currently exists that can help us.

The only solace we can take from all this is knowing the actual penguins involved don’t even know what the hell’s going on. And I believe they honestly don’t care. Maybe that’s something we all should really learn.

Update 18/7/2014: Looks like the voicing out worked.

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The Blogfather’s first post on the issue here.

Dear NLB – Singling Out Penguins & Swans

To:
Ms Tay Ai Cheng
Assistant Chief Executive & Chief Librarian
Public Library Services Group
National Library Board

Dear Ms Tay,

My son, my wife and I are long-time patrons of your excellent establishment. My son, especially, particularly loves your vast collection of books, and he would like to also extend his heartiest commendations to the Board’s recent My Tree House children’s section revamp of your Central Library.

NLB-My_Tree-House

We’ve always reveled at how we might find rather progressive reads among your children’s titles, and have borrowed many a book to read as bedtime stories to our son. But my family was surprised, disturbed and quite dismayed to learn about a recent apparent decision of yours to pull two titles, And Tango Makes Three and White Swan Express, based on what looks like a single visitor’s feedback and the grounds that they did not fall in line with the strong pro-family stand your establishment takes in selecting books for children.

Coincidentally, just one day before I read about your decision, I was discussing a story that surfaced in social media of two male penguins having successfully raised an adopted chick. During the discussion, I said that although the human concept of homosexuality may be completely lost on penguins, “(a)nthropomorphisms are what we do to try and understand the world in our terms. The same concept creates as much havoc in our own social construct as it helps build our understanding of the world we live in, and each other.”

image

That said, I dare say your recent action has taken a rather irrational direction, which is ironic seeing as your establishment has long been revered as a bastion of knowledge for not only this country’s citizens, but around the region. One wonders, if the Board would so readily pull two so-deemed questionable titles based on just one complaint, why the Board has not yet pulled Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting (that beautiful story written in a Scottish accent that made heroin addiction cool), Adam Mansbach’s Go the F**k to Sleep (the Samuel L. Jackson audio version, no less), or the most recent of book titles being arbitrarily challenged, Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park (that one set of parents in the US challenged based on their citation of the “227 instances of coarse language and sexuality”, never mind that the book dealt with abuse, discrimination and bullying in a very strong and honest way).

Given the heated discourse being openly conducted in our country, in part to define family values, I feel obliged to speak up as a husband, a father of two and an ardent supporter of all things valued by family. Family values are unique to each and every family; what might work for one family might not fit into the beliefs of another. I know of enough people around me and around the world afflicted by disability, sickness, death, divorce, financial burden, miscarriage, infertility, or even racial, religious, political and sexual discrimination to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to family creation and management. And if I may say as way of compliment to the Board, I learned how to empathise with all of these people and all these situations through the various children’s books my family regularly bring home to read as bedtime stories to our children, just over the last 4 years alone.

I'd tell you what books moved me and my family, but you'd have to put them back in the shelves first.
I’d tell you what books moved me and my family, but you’d have to put them back in the shelves first.

I believe the Board seeks to cater to as broad a base of readers as you are able to reach, which means you do actively consider carrying a diverse range of material that may each address one psychographic of your audience over another, in a bid to capture as many subsets of the population-at-large as you can. That being said, I feel the need to remind you that our family values are ultimately for our own family to dictate and no one else, much less one who would impose his or her own ideals and beliefs on an entire nation by denying it of knowledge that might ultimately lead to a better understanding of the world we live in, knowledge contained in every book, periodical and media recording that you carry – including but not limited to the two book titles you’re now pulling off your shelves.

Besides, given the immense smorgasbord of topics and categories that you cover, the Board cannot be expected to endorse every view contained in every book, periodical and media recording that you carry, can you? So why would you dig your good selves a precarious hole of such a ridiculous cause by starting with two children’s books that deal indiscriminately with the one family value that should be most emphasised yet is also the most overlooked in our society today – love?

Our future lies in the hands of our children, and you play an essential part in their upbringing. My family and I (not to mention a number of my other friends and likeminded library users – here, here, here and here – from whom you’ve no doubt also heard from already since this unfortunate turn of events) do sincerely expect you will do right by the people you serve.

With hope,

Winston Tay

Update 18/7/2014: Looks like the voicing out worked.

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The Blogfather’s follow-up post on the issue here.

The Issue vs. The Problem

There’s been a lot going on in this little dramatic spot of an island the last few months. The Blogfather has been quietly watching from the sidelines without the usual commentary that I’d post up as I usually would the years before, primarily because as compared to previous years, these recent spate of events have been more… intense.

Consider this entry on Wikipedia on OB Markers, which notes then-Minister of Information and the Arts George Yeo as saying “that it is difficult to define exactly what the OB markers are in advance” (that very well-respected then-minister has since retired from the political scene, to administer information very artfully through his team of writers in alternative news website Mothership.sg), then lists topics (allegedly) long held to be out of bounds by state media – race, religion, homosexuality, and political criticism.

Topics which are no longer out-of-bounds by today’s standards, not because the state media is having a change of heart on OB markers, but because the local social media scene has very openly and vehemently slapped these very topics hard on the big green table known as our country without regard for what the state thinks. Look at what we have:

issue-problem

Certainly, our world has changed. I hesitate to say for the better, but it is a step forward nonetheless, seeing as we are exploring uncharted territory – whether we like it or not. But after a few years of wading through the stories, you realise the issues remain more or less the same, but the problem changes.

Wait, what?

One of the more poignant pieces of advice a parent can get in the modern age of child psychology is, “Scold the behaviour, not the child.” (Incidentally, I learnt this from another lesser-known dad blogger who can make a killer Teochew-style steamed fish.) As I experimented with the idea back when Xan was about to embark on his terrible twos, and I realised the idea behind it can be applied to pretty every aspect of life that involves problem-solving – personal, familial, social, work life, politics, religion, etc., because people like to take things personally, thereby messing up what could otherwise be a civil discussion.

Too often, the issue that needs solving has very little if anything to do with the people you’re trying to solve the issue with, but these last few socio-political incidents, especially, have gotten so personal it’s not only become more difficult to tell who’s right or wrong, but almost impossible to separate the unnecessary naming, blaming and shaming from the actual issue that needs solving in the first place.

You want to talk about homosexuality/homophobia? Wearing a certain colour, romping around in a big green field with your family and friends and shouting to the skies about how much you identify with your own beliefs with maybe a few thousand others is not going to gain you a better understanding of what’s outside the well you so proudly live in. Times like this really call for dialogue, not drama. So stop acting like children, all of you (no offence to my own children), and bloody talk to each other instead of around each other for a change, like these nice people are asking you to.

You want to figure out the CPF system? Bloody talk about CPF. It’s been more than a month already since this became a hot potato topic after Roy Ngerng’s series of unfortunate events, and now for some reason, we now know Roy is gay and jobless, the PM’s lawyer has his name immortalised into an adjective (“Haha, dude’s been Davindered, LOLx”) and we also have that elderly lady’s home address, but we’re all no closer to understanding what implications the new changes to CPF (or all of CPF) have on us simple folk on the ground.

You want to talk politics? Acknowledge the system isn’t perfect, and may never be, but don’t keep saying it’s good or bad when it isn’t entirely good or bad. All this rhetoric about who came up with the system, who should get credit and who should just join politics or shut up, doesn’t address the fact that audience that’s being forced to watch you fling crap at each other really just wants to get on with their lives, but can’t until you solve the issue you’re so expertly not talking about.

BF-SG-Scene

The Blogfather truly believes there exists a capacity in every individual to empathise with all sides in any given issue – religious, atheist, straight, gay, local, foreign, young, old, public servant, private citizen. But that doesn’t mean I would stand blindly with any of these groups, especially when I see that none of them are actively trying to solve the issue they have at hand. These people are the problem that stands in the way of the issues they’re trying to solve. They form the very trait that’s made us mockery amongst the brethren around us for far too long already – that all we know is complain.

Solve the issue without becoming the problem, can?

And now that I’m done complaining and trampling all over OB markers in the process, I’m going back to work now.

No Staycation, Crowne Plaza Changi? – A Breakfast Buffet Love Story (Sort of)

It’s the June school holidays. For most of us, it means family time, activity-hunting and possibly a vacation, now that the kids are out of school for a month.

For parent bloggers, it’s peak season. Especially for dads, since Father’s Day happens in the same month.

And so it is that The Blogfather has been receiving his fair share of event invitations all the past 2-3 weeks. But one particular email had my undivided attention for a good two days, for the fact that it wasn’t addressed to me. The email started with “Dear Xander,…” (you can read the excerpt now published there).

A little while after receiving the message, I responded to graciously accept the sender’s invitation, on condition that the sender also be present, because this was someone I really didn’t mind meeting.

Azur-Entrance

But that’s not the story.

A day after I replied to RSVP, I received a Twitter notification.

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I don’t know about you, but it felt a little like flirting to me. So I responded.

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I took things a bit further and posted it on Facebook, too.

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Then a friend of mine caught wind of the conversation (you might know him from his blog, too), and decided to play wingman.

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It then escalated into a love triangle.

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Given that I knew what Crowne Plaza had in store for the Cheekiemonkies (word gets around; there are only so many Singaporean dad bloggers, you know), I was understandably not too pleased.

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Crowne Plaza Changi decided a threesome wasn’t quite enough.

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And The Blogfather welcomed the idea.

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But Changi Airport left us all hanging.

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***

Seriously, given what’s been happening the past few months (since I published what I now endearingly called The 6pm Post, I had to sit with my boss to re-evaluate my work situation; long story short, I’m now in the midst of transitioning to a new company), a breakfast at Crowne Plaza is nice, but a staycation would make a really, really nice Father’s Day gift, don’t you think, Crown Plaza Changi / Changi Airport?

Staycations notwithstanding, breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Changi’s award-winning restaurant Azur is nice. I give you The Blogfather’s word, and food porn taken of Azur’s breakfast buffet spread, in case you need more than The Blogfather’s word (which is not surprising, seeing as I’m no food blogger):

Azur's Intercontinental selection
Azur’s Intercontinental selection

Azur_Panorama

The Asian breakfast section
The Asian breakfast section

And from now till 30 June, up to four children (below the age of 12) can dine free with every two paying adults (at S$33++ per adult).

I was told this breakfast buffet is a perfect start of the day for families planning a full day of activities in Changi Airport itself. As for exactly what fun family activities the Airport has in store for the month of June,… go ask Cheekiemonkies later. They got the staycation.

All I had was breakfast. 🙁

Azur-Waffles

Disclaimer: Aside from the breakfast buffet, this post is not sponsored. At least, not yet.

A Day in the Life of a Working Active Father

I wake up at 7 in the morning; these days, I try to clock a good 8 hours of slumber, which is much more than the average parent can ask for, so it doesn’t usually take much effort for me to dig myself out of bed. I wake my son up, and we brush our teeth and get dressed. I make him his sandwich while he’s wearing his socks, and I make sure his bag is all packed – spare school clothes, water bottle, and on some days, something for him to bring for show and tell – before we give the Mother and the Sister of Xander their first kisses of the day, and leave for the morning.

After I drop Xan off at school, I head to work. Some days, I might have enough time to eat before stepping into the office. But by 9am (9.30am at the latest) I’m paid about $18.75 an hour to supply an indefinite amount of words, wit and, on occasion, my knowledge and experience in the name of advertising.

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At the end of every work day, when I decide to leave at 6pm sharp. I do so knowing I leave a trail of talk behind my back. To some, my leaving on the dot is an inconsiderate act, a disruption of work processes, a disregard for timeliness, even disrespect. This mindset exists not just in my own workplace, but in many organisations around Singapore, if not the world, wherever there exists such things as an “office” or a “work culture”.

But I have to say something in defense of those that disagree with my incorrigible punctuality. I did say it myself: I decide to leave at 6pm sharp every day. I have a choice. Of course I do. Everything we do is a choice. It just doesn’t seem like it when I explain why 6pm is my magic hour.

You see, my son’s school, which is 45 minutes away from my workplace by train and peak-hour Shenton Way human traffic, charges a fine of $1 per minute should a parent be late in picking up his or her child, so I have to pay a touch more than one hour’s salary if I’m late for just 19 minutes (for justification of the math, see paragraph 2). That aside, my son’s last meal would have been a half-fold peanut butter and jam sandwich I made for him and a packet of milk at about 3-4 hours before school ends, so he will be famished by the time I get to him, making it imperative that he have his dinner by 7.30pm. And if you ever get to see the face he wears when I happen to be the last parent to reach his school, you’d make sure I always pick him up from school in time, too.

Still, I choose to.

***

Some will choose to make establishing their career the utmost priority, setting out, in properly planned and measured steps with varying degrees of speed, effort, and single-mindedness, to achieve – or exceed – industry benchmarks recognised nationwide, across regions, or around the world, if not for the full satisfaction of personal achievement.

Some will choose to take care of the very fundamental, physiological needs. In a nation like ours, this is in itself a tall mountain to climb, and its peak seems to grow with every passing year (or perhaps by our own insatiable tendency, we shift our own goalposts more frequently than we can catch up to our goal).

I once chose career over life. Then I quit a five-year stint with a company very dear to me because I found myself missing one too many milestones in Xander’s first year.

Then I took on work in a bid to clear my own financial debt from trying to shoot at goalposts I could never reach. But the emotional debt that took its place proved too much to bear; I left a very stable job at a law firm because I had too much empathy to hold on to a job that earned its keep from very messy family breakdowns.

Next, I tried my hand at self-actualisation, and decided I wanted to pursue a dream. But as a full-time writer for a grand total of 2 months minus 2 days after my law firm stint, I learned the hard way that an online publication with content geared towards parents and parents-to-be (you know the one) doesn’t necessarily mean they are run or written by parents, much less a parent-friendly employer; in this case, not by a long shot.

Throughout all the job-hopping, career switches, bad life decisions, and that year-long, nearly incomeless period of wondering what happened and what will happen next, my wife stood by my side, making sure our son was taken care of with one arm, and with the other, working on me while I worked on life. My son continues to love me because I am first and foremost his father, and for the last 5 years of his life, he made sure I knew that. Even on days when I’m the last to pick him up from school, when I see his disappointed face follow me to the car, and I apologise, and he takes a deep breath, looks me in the eye, and says “It’s okay, daddy.”

So, which do you think I would choose to prioritise: people who would grumble about me leaving on time after work, or a 5-year-old boy who will readily forgive me for being late, and still call me Daddy?

***

To my current company, clients and colleagues, I do apologise for inconveniencing your evening of clearing in-trays and requiring that office work be done after office hours . I cannot say enough that I love my current job immensely, more than anything I’ve ever done in my career up to this point, and for 8 hours every weekday, rest assured I will fully dedicate my life to the service of this organisation.

And from hard-earned, mostly painful experience, I also cannot stress enough that no one – not this organisation, nor you, nor me – can ever guarantee that any of us will still be working in this company, with each other, by this time next year.

But what I can and will guarantee is that I will be there for my family, and my family will be there for me, for the rest of our lives. That’s a promise my wife and I made to each other the day we got married. It’s a promise we made to Xander the moment he was born. And we are all committed to making sure Yvie gets all the love she can get from us.

I have to guarantee this because I chose to be an active father.

Why I Am Reading Breastfeeding Posts

A few nights ago, The Wife came out of the bedroom and joined me on the living room sofa after Yvie and the confinement nanny had gone to sleep. It was about 11pm, and I was preparing for bed myself.

After a couple of minutes, I heard a dull, rhythmic drilling sound that seemed to be coming out of the walls. It had been a long day, and the last thing I needed was to contend with a neighbour about not conducting renovations at 11am on a Sunday night. So I turned my head up and around to trace the direction of the sound, and saw The Wife seated to my right, with a handheld electric breastpump that made a dull, rhythmic drilling sound whilst attached to her left boob.

We both laughed hard about my reaction, but unlike with Yvie these days, we didn’t see as much humour in trying to breastfeed Xander. It was a very stressful time, and in between the crying and the screaming in the house (which, in truth, was coming from everyone else in the household except the baby), The Wife was having a very difficult time expressing what she felt to be enough milk to feed Xander. It didn’t help that we had a select number of mothers and advocates both young and old, related, acquainted or otherwise, that we’re guiltily her into something they kept describing was the easiest thing in the world to do, but I saw as the one thing that was about to break the very spirit of the woman I loved, and potentially our family.

With Xander, she stopped trying after 3 months or so. And for 3 years after, she would periodically beat herself up for not trying harder (Sometimes to the point of tears, even after so long), and I would stand by helpless, not knowing what to say or do.

As much as we want to, many, if not all of us fathers aren’t quite able to empathise with our wives’ obsession over breastfeeding vs formula feeding vs whatever the hell else you’d want to put in a newborn’s diet. I have friends and family who grew up feeding one way or another, and everyone is as healthy as everyone else could be. And seriously, has the state of your health ever been determined by a doctor with an initial compulsory query of “Were you breastfed, formula-fed, cow-fed, or organic soy milk fed?” I’d like to just point you to a good dad-turned-amateur pediatrician of mine, who offered these sensible, wise words at the peak of his frustration with dealing with breastfeeding/formula feeding fanatics (we are at present unable to determine if said fanatic was his wife) when he said: “When taking care of the baby, look at the baby, don’t look at the number.?If he pee ok, poo ok, happy everyday, don’t worry! Most important is to have a happy and healthy baby.”

Then we have this fine specimen of a human being, who left the following comment on another mom blogger’s post about contending with breastfeeding in the throes of her possible post-natal depression:

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Wow, indeed. Did you stop reading when you got to the part in her post about throwing her milk away? If not, and if this is your idea of helping women with maternity issues such as breastfeeding, baby care and baby blues, “petrina”, I’d rather take Andy Lee of Sengkang Babies to be my preferred lactation expert any day. How you would think one wouldn’t mind when you decide to dedicate 66 carefully chosen words to be published in the comments section of an open blog to put down a mother struggling with the stress of being a young new mother for “wasting liquid gold”, just shows how ineffective helpful comments like this can be when served up with such a generous, healthy dose of utter self-righteousness, never mind that certain long-term benefits of the method Petrina has chosen to faithfully advocate have recently been put into question.

But lest we judge prematurely, perhaps Petrina, like the mom blogger who was the target of her ire, may have had her own inadequacies with amassing her own liquid gold. Perhaps she, like the Mother of Xander, took to blaming herself for being unable to produce enough. Perhaps she decided she needed to learn breastfeeding techniques the right way, by going to classes, reading books, massaging her breasts in the prescribed manner, taking much-discussed supplements, practising correct latching methods, and ultimately, if she had another child since her internalised “failing”, finally succeeded in creating that liquid gold for the benefit of her child, thus building her confidence, not only in offering her treasured nectar to her newly produced offspring from now until the end of time, but to help other mothers to do so by preaching her tried-and-true knowledge to other mothers, and chastising those that she sees to have erred.

Update: Petrina shares her story in the comments section of The Kam Family’s blog
. I wasn’t too far off the mark, it seems.
Kam

Okay, The Blogfather has done lesting his judgement.

Petrina, you are a prick. I thought the nurses and the counsellors we saw at the hospital were bad, but you have taken maybe three whole cakes and a dozen strawberry muffins to boot. I sincerely hope you have at least a couple of decent people left in your social circle whom you might have what little humility you have left in you to allow to teach you a thing or two about empathy, because you sure as hell won’t get any from anyone who’s read your comment today.

I will say this for the zealots that think they’ve been endowed with the power to change lives by adamantly shoving their own staunchly-held principles, feebly masked as “help”, into the faces of people who would otherwise rather not be talking with you: absolutely no one has the right to force-feed his or her own prescribed beliefs on anyone, much less talk down to people who do not subscribe to said beliefs. The parents in the thick of seeing their children through school have spoken at length about how this method of teaching doesn’t work any more in our own education system, so how the hell do you think your holier-than-thou attitude will push your point across to anyone effectively?

People like this don’t just make hapless mothers suffer with even more guilt than they’ve already weighed themselves down with; we, the husbands, have to try and pick up the pieces you leave behind when you break our wives’ spirit with your callous words. And, especially when it comes to things like breastfeeding, a lot of the times, we don’t know how to, for the simple biological reason that we don’t have actively producing milk ducts like our wives, so we have absolutely no way of knowing what our loved one is grappling with. All we know is that we’re trying our fucking level best to take care of our kids in the best way we know, and if it doesn’t agree with the way you want us to subscribe to, well, on behalf of all the husbands and fathers that have ever stood by their wives throughout the labour, recovery and parenting process, The Blogfather would like to invite you to please go back to whatever hole you crawled out of, and make yourself a crown of liquid gold to wear on your bigoted head so you can royally go fuck yourself.

… um, yeah. I let go a little there. Sorry.

I wrote this post in support of the breastfeeding blog train started by Madeline of Mad Psych Mum, and currently going on from the mom blogger’s community, whose stories extend from not being able to breastfeed to taking their breastfeeding journey all the way up to 4 whole years. Every story is personal, and none are judgmental; that’s how it should be. The button below will take you to all their stories.

A Different Thaipusam

Courtesy of Theeban Gunasagar, via Nathan Raj
Courtesy of Theeban Gunasagar, via Nathan Raj

Saw this image on my News Feed yesterday. I used to live in an apartment along the Thaipusam procession route, and as much as I spent many Thaipusam nights in sleepless wonder at the amount of celebratory cheers, when you see how the participants move tethered with their kavadis, earthen pots and other beautiful elaborate body piercings, you know the music is a compulsory part of the procession, in order to keep them going with such energy and love from one end of their voyage to the other.

This morning as we were driving through the Selegie/Middle Road junction and watching some kavadi carriers walk by, I told the Wife (who is also very familiar with the celebratory sounds of the procession) that instruments were no longer allowed. She didn’t believe me.

To prove my point, I rolled down the car window. Save for the low buzz of traffic, silence.

It feels like every day, I see and hear things happening in our home that takes a little bit more of our soul away from us. No wonder we’re not happy. No wonder we struggle with identity. No wonder we’re no longer one united people.

More references:

Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) Thaipusam 2014 Guidelines (note Section B, point 3)

A 1989 Straits Times newspaper clipping about enforcement of the Thaipusam “no music” rule

A 2011 TOC article on the explanation of HEB’s Thaipusam guidelines offered by the government

A 2011 blog post on Singapore 2025 with more details on how this rule came about and ground reactions to its enforcement

Alfian Sa’at weighs in on FB, with a lively discussion in comments to boot

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Know a Hoax When You See One

Read this carefully. The Blogfather is about to teach you something.

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Now, for the lesson.

The very first thing that should trigger alarm bells is when someone says “a friend’s friend family” or “my sister’s friend’s colleague’s son” or “my girlfriend’s dog’s previous owner’s landlord’s mother’s granduncle’s gynaecologist”. If it isn’t first hand info, it probably isn’t real.

Second, not a single person involved in the story was named. If it isn’t verifiable, it is even less probably real.

There are always three consistent elements to fake stories. It always takes place in a real and familiar establishment (in this case, Legoland, though which one in the world isn’t specified). It always involves a very trivial slip (the friend’s friend family – ah, never even say if mother father or granduncle’s gynaecologist – “taking her eyes off her 6 year old for just a moment”), and the description of an elaborate, yet believable-if-you-really-think-about-it crime being committed mid-pants down with at best a very vague description of a perpetrator who is not identifiable, much less prosecutable.

Finally, the only legitimate times I see a story ending with a plead to “Please spread” with a generous dose of exclamation marks is when I see postings of missing kids and elderly (with clear identification, including names, state of dress and last seen location). Seriously, if I wanted to share the true story of my kidney being stolen while I was in a drunken stupor, I’d call the New Paper or The Online Citizen, not ask my Facebook friends to help me make my post viral.

***

I’ve written at length about how stuff like this (think the AMK Hub and Tampines false kidnapping allegations back in 2012) creates not just unnecessary moral panic but an otherwise irrational fear of anything and anyone that doesn’t reside within the confines of your home. I’ve even helped to derail a suspicious story last year about the child-grabbing incident at a PCF Education Centre. And yet, yesterday someone asked me who does this kind of thing, and why these stories still persist.

I said, “Conspiracy mongers are dangerous animals. Their naiveté feeds the innocent to make them naive as well. I would rather kill the fire than quietly let it breed.” The statement only addresses the messengers, though, and not the source. For that, I told her of a conspiracy theory the Wife told me about once that might explain the fascination with things that go viral in the online world.

It is common practice for biologists to create viruses that do not otherwise exist in the wild to experiment with (some PR and marketing agencies experiment as well, with viral campaigns; heck, even I do it). The noble ones are looking for a better vaccine to fight off a related strain. Then there are the others, who just want to see?how far their creations can spread, without consideration of consequences.

So imagine, if you will (and I reiterate again, this is a conspiracy theory), that a number of years ago, scientists created a potent virus with air- and water-borne capabilities that can only affect humans, and as an indicator of its having taken effect on its human host – as well as its mode of transport – it’ll give people runny noses. Then for the sake of studying the effectiveness of such a virus, a mere 2 drops of it was dropped from an overhead bridge onto an interstate train, with the assumption that the virus will die off after a couple of days and no one would be the wiser. What was intended to be a study in how sickness may travel in a populated area, mutated to become a permanent fixture in the human condition called influenza, or the common cold.

Stories like the one shared above are extra-deplorable to The Blogfather because it targets the very insecurities that parents will have, at best causing a nagging anxiety within families to their child’s interaction with an otherwise harmless world, and at worst empowering the fear in their hearts that the world is not safe for anyone, and converting us all into unresponsive, untrusting introverts who want nothing to do with anyone, because they now think every single person is inherently evil and should never be engaged, thanks to an elaborate lie.

Moral of the story? Doesn’t matter if you’re the originator or just a helpful messenger; know that everything you do has consequences, and make sure the consequences of your actions don’t make the world permanently sick.